In more than a year since Bloomington mayor John Hamilton signed revisions to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) into law, just one application to construct a duplex as a conditional use has been heard by the city’s board of zoning appeals (BZA).
At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a raft of changes to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) that were in many cases purely technical in nature.
But some of the changes were meant to support specific policy goals— like preventing massive buildings that have been called as “monolithic” in character, and encouraging developers to use the affordability incentives that are already included in the UDO.
Developers will now get a smaller building floor plate “by right.” They’ll get a bit of a bump in square footage if they use either the sustainable development incentive alone or the affordable housing incentive alone. But they’ll get a significant increase in floor plate area, if they use both incentive types.
The changes to the UDO approved by the city council were spread across four different ordinances. The legislation had been initiated by planning staff and recommended for approval by the city’s plan commission.
Since Bloomington’s most recently updated unified development ordinance (UDO) was signed into law by mayor John Hamilton on July 12 last year, no conditional use applications have been filed to build duplexes in older residential neighborhoods.
That was the report to the Bloomington city council’s Wednesday meeting by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. The only way new duplexes can be constructed in older neighborhoods is through a conditional use application.
Also on Wednesday, planning and transportation director Scott Robinson alerted the council to some upcoming proposed changes in the UDO—revisions to the incentives that are available to developers. Developers of student housing are using the sustainability incentive, but not the affordability incentive, Robinson reported. The goal of the proposed changes will be to encourage the use of both incentive types, Robinson said.
Those proposed changes to the UDO’s incentives will eventually be reviewed by Bloomington’s plan commission, before the city council makes a decision. The city plan commission’s next meeting is set for Feb. 7. That will be the commission’s first meeting of the year. The group will have two new faces compared to last year.
The city council representative to the plan commission will be Ron Smith, not Susan Sandberg, who has served the last few years in that role. The other new face isTim Ballard, who has been appointed to the Bloomington plan commission as the replacement for Beth Cate, who resigned when she took the role of the city’s corporation counsel in early January.
It’s the same year when Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” was published, with its proverbial line from the storyteller’s adjacent landowner: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
In mid-May the US Postal Service started building an eight-foot-tall fence around its branch just south of the park.
With its fence construction, by the standards of the narrator’s neighbor in the “Mending Wall,” the USPS has made itself a “good neighbor” to the public park.
Some local reaction has been more along the lines of the storyteller in the poem: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.”
It looks like the fence probably doesn’t conform with local zoning code. But the principle of “sovereign immunity” means the USPS, even as a lessee of the property, can build the fence the way it wants, according to Bloomington’s legal department.
A decision on a proposed new local law that would require landlords and tenants to sign occupancy affidavits, and file them with the housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council until June 16.
The unanimous vote to postpone final action came after public commentary from one smaller-scale landlord and a representative of the local apartment association. They called into question the need for the new local law.
As councilmembers were mulling a longer postponement, until July 21, HAND director John Zody told them, “I would encourage the council to fix a date where we would hear this again, if possible, so that we can work off of a timeline.”
Zody told councilmembers the new ordinance is a priority for the administration.
It became a priority, Zody wrote in response to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, when the state legislature enacted legislation that prohibits the city from requiring the issuance of a tenant’s rights and responsibilities document. Bloomington’s rights and responsibilities document included a section similar to the occupancy affidavit. [SEA 148]
According to a “whereas” clause in the ordinance, Bloomington has “a demonstrated problem enforcing over-occupancy in residential rental units.” It’s a claim that drew skepticism during public commentary.
Owners of Bloomington rental properties with four or fewer units might have to start submitting “a fully executed occupancy affidavit” to the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.
On votes that were taken on five different days, starting on May 4, Bloomington’s city council has approved an ordinance that changes the status of duplexes in the basic law of land use in the city.
The final vote came on Thursday (May 13).
In the course of its deliberations, the council considered five different amendments to the ordinance.
Two of them were successful—the one making duplexes a conditional use, instead of a permitted use (Am 02), and the one that imposed a cap of 15 duplexes per year and a two-year 150-foot buffer around parcels that are granted a conditional use permit (Am 03).
Instead of being disallowed in the central residential districts of the city (R1, R2, and R3), duplexes will now be allowed, but subject to a review by the board of zoning appeals for a conditional use permit.
The final amendment—to add consideration of undue impact of traffic to criteria to be considered for granting a conditional use permit (Am 05)—failed on a 3–6 vote. Only Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith supported it.
On a 4–5 vote taken Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council rejected an amendment to a proposed zoning ordinance that would have tied a higher number of bedrooms in a duplex unit to affordability requirements.
But by the time the council recessed its meeting around 11 p.m., its work on Ordinance 21-23 was still not finished.
The council left off in the middle of public commentary on Amendment 05, which would add potential undue traffic congestion as one of the criteria the board of zoning appeals would need to consider, when granting a conditional use permit for a duplex.
Under Amendment 04 to Ordinance 21-23, which failed on a 4–5 split, a duplex unit could not have more than two bedrooms per unit—for a total of four. Three bedrooms would be allowed—for a total of six—only if affordability requirements are met.
Under the failed Amendment 04, one way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make both sides of the duplex permanently income-restricted for those earning below 120 percent of the HUD area median income (AMI). The other way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make one of the duplex units permanently income-restricted for those earning below 80 percent of the AMI.
After voting unanimously the previous night to allow duplexes as a conditional use in Bloomington’s central residential districts, on Thursday Bloomington’s city council added some additional constraints on duplexes.
The “guardrails” that are included in Amendment 03 to Ordinance 21-23 are meant to allay the concern that single-family houses will be bought up by profit-driven developers and rapidly converted to duplexes.
The council’s work on duplex zoning will continue next week.
One feature of Amendment 03 imposes a cap of 15 duplexes per calendar year. An earlier version of the amendment had put the cap at 10.
Another feature of Amendment 03 is a geographic constraint. It adds a requirement that within a 150-foot buffer of a property where a conditional use permit has been issued for a duplex, no additional duplexes will be allowed for two years.
An earlier version of the amendment prohibited additional duplexes within the buffer in perpetuity, not just two years. That change was something that councilmember Matt Flaherty mentioned on Thursday night as helping to persuade him that he could support the amendment.